Specifying broomed exterior concrete surfaces

broom_splash page
Photo courtesy CECO Concrete Construction

by Bruce A. Suprenant, PE, PhD, 
and Frank Salzano, PE
As a safety requirement, all exterior concrete surfaces must have a slip-resistant surface. The most common method for this is specifying a ‘broom finish.’ But, is that all there is to it? Specifications must also satisfy owner requirements for appearance, flatness, texture, as well as drainage.

These requirements vary from project to project because of the wide variety of exterior concrete surfaces with a broom finish, including:

parking garages;
parking lots;
miscellaneous site paving;
plaza decks;
topping slabs and overlays;
ramps and stairs; and
sidewalks and driveways.

Contractors can achieve many different specified broom finish characteristics, but the most important issue often affecting achievability is the size effect. With smaller concrete placements, more consistent brooming results can be expected. As the concrete placement size increases—from a 1.2 x 30.5-m (4 x 100-ft) sidewalk to a large-scale parking garage placement of 930 m2 (10,000 sf), for example—it becomes more difficult to produce a consistent appearance, flatness, texture, and drainage. What is possible to produce on a 1.2-m (4-ft) wide sidewalk surface is impossible for a large-scale parking garage surface.

Specifiers must recognize this inherent difficulty with different-sized concrete placements and owners must realize that while the larger parking garage placements cost less and shorten the schedule, they will not have the same appearance, flatness, texture, and drainage as a sidewalk. If the owner elects to place narrow strips for the parking garage slab to achieve a more consistent result, the trade-off is increased cost and a longer schedule.

The size effect
Specifiers sometimes create their own reference sample, usually about 0.3 to 0.6 m x 0.3 to 0.6 m (1 to 2 ft x 1 to 2 ft), to show the contractor the texture and appearance specified for the project. Although these sample panels exhibit a consistent texture and appearance, they give the contractor little beneficial information. The contractor does not know the concrete mixture proportions, setting time, or bleeding rate and duration. The finishing tools and procedures used to obtain the sample texture and appearance are also unknown. The sample’s small size makes it easy to obtain a consistent result.

However, the size of these samples makes them inappropriate for comparison with concrete surfaces produced on a jobsite, even including a 3 x 3-m (10 x 10-ft) mockup panel. A small sample panel should not be used in specifying a desired finish. If a reference sample is desired, one should choose a broom-finished surface matching the project’s scope of work. If it is a parking garage project, for instance, a satisfactory as-built broom-finished surface for another parking garage should be chosen as a sample. A sidewalk panel bounded by contraction joints, conversely, should not be selected to represent the expected broomed-surface finish for this garage.

Specifiers sometimes require a 3 x 3-m (10 x 10-ft) mockup demonstrating typical joints, surface finish, texture, tolerances, and standard of workmanship produced by the contractor’s methods. This is a better reference than a small sample panel, but is still not indicative of what can be achieved for a large-scale concrete placement in a parking garage. For instance, this mockup usually contains only one truckload of concrete and thus does not represent batch-to-batch variations in setting time or bleeding rates and duration that contractors must contend with. Additionally, the weather—temperature, wind, sun, relative humidity (RH), rain, or snow—will have little effect on a mockup as it is easy to protect a concrete placement of this size from the elements.

Most importantly, one broom pass can be used to texture the surface while the finisher stands on the perimeter of the mockup. The results of brooming in one pass while standing on the placement perimeter differ dramatically from those for large-scale concrete placements.

Unfortunately, the appearance, flatness, texture, and drainage characteristics of a well-built sidewalk create an unreasonable expectation that the same results can be achieved on large-scale concrete placements, but this is untrue. A sidewalk has nearly the same ease-of-placement benefits as a mockup. Further, it is easier to control a short-handled broom used on a 1.2-m (4-ft) wide sidewalk than it is to control a broom with a 6-m (20-ft) long handle used on large placements.

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10 comments on “Specifying broomed exterior concrete surfaces”

  1. It seems like a lot more companies are using that ready-mix concrete. They are able to make up the mix twice as fast. It is yet to be determined if it is as good of quality. We’ll see once a few driveways get built.

  2. It is interesting that a slip-resistant surface is actually required for this type of thing. This makes sense especially in areas where snowy and rainy weather is really common. I know that where I live, parking lots would be treacherous if this type of thing wasn’t required. I appreciate your helpful information on how and why they do this type of thing to exterior concrete.

  3. There is a lot you can do with concrete. I remember laying concrete once and to see all of the work that goes into it is cool. If you want the job done right you have to make sure you lay it correctly and finish it with the broom finish to kept people from slipping.

  4. There are so many techniques and ways of putting in concrete. For something that seems so simple, it gets really complex. It seems like more and more methods are created all the time. Being someone who installs concrete for work, I have to stay on top of all the methods and figure out which one to use.

  5. Thanks for all of the insight about broomed exterior concrete surfaces. You talk about how this method is used to achieve the size effect because with larger surfaces, it becomes difficult to give the concrete a unified and consistent appearance, so the broom finish accomplishes this task. I can see how this is a fairly easy way to make sure that the surface ends up looking polished, smooth, and unified. Thank you again for the insight!

  6. Thanks for your article about concrete construction an safety. I didn’t know that exterior concrete surfaces must have some form of slip-resistant surface. I grew up in the Northwest, and it rained for most of the year. This makes perfect sense, though. You can get highly polished surfaces with concrete. With a slip resistant surface it should help to minimize falls.

  7. Thanks for sharing such an insightful information over here. A concrete driveway is considered to be the best part in housing decisions. If we compare to alternative driveway materials like cement or stone, Concrete offers numerous advantages. The above video shows all of the concrete benefits and its features. For Knowing further benefits of using concrete contact visit expert advice at the official site of paving contractors like Asphalt Paving Frederick MD

  8. Thanks a lot for sharing info about concrete surfaces in such detail. I found the size effect aspect especially interesting and relevant, being in the commercial and industrial flooring industry myself.

  9. 1-how answered about these comments:

    -Broom finish is not straight, not consistent, and not uniform at many panels.

    -The corrugated depth of broom finish is not uniform, Texture finish appeared rough &light at many places, discoloration on concrete finish observed and marks appeared on the texture finish.

  10. Great share. I appreciate your post as it is a good tip for homeowners. It is quite useful to know that asphalt driveway needs regular seal coating. My parents living in new Bedford ma, they are going to update with a new asphalt coating because their old concrete driveway is cracked and falling apart. They need to find a good contractor for getting the job done with a low-cost budget on stamped concrete cape cod, so it’s a simple thing for them if you can recommend one. Thanks, Doris Brown

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